Photo credit: Soundcloud.
For the final night of Luke’s Sital-Singh’s self-proclaimed Magical Misery Tour, him and his supporting crew, which appears to be his regular warm up act for the tour and a guy who tunes his guitars, headed down to Exeter for a Friday night in The Phoenix. Sital-Singh is an acoustic singer-songwriter, so the audience wasn’t expected to be moshing, raving, or even dancing. That said this crowd made his final evening very hard work for him.
The evening started with The Lures, a local band playing as the supporting act. They were capable, a solid representation of the indie-rock style, all denim jeans and a front man crooning so close to the microphone it was barely possible to make out what he was saying. The room had maybe 30 at this point, yet the band still gave it a good shot, with a strong supporting cast. They showed promise, but lacked polish and originality. That said, they gave a strong finish, as their two final songs were brave and bold.
The second supporting act was an Irish singer-songwriter named Ciaran Lavery, who has previously accompanied Sital-Singh around the country. It seemed a strange choice to warm up for Sital-Singh, since the act is broadly similar to his own. Both are vocal-heavy singer-songwriters. That said Lavery was very impressive, once I got past how much he looked like a ginger Bill Hader. A very comfortable stage presence, he got the crowd laughing with him with a conversational approach between songs. Heavy with self-deprecating humour lead to a gentle mockery of the crowd, pointing out their lack of excitement. His voice had a raw, throaty, and powerful effect, particularly when combined with his honest lyrics. His guitar mostly served to accompany his voice, making for a simple but very good whole.
As Lavery commented ‘a good singer-songwriter show is meant to break your heart’ and following his performance of fairly tragic songs, came the main act himself to continue the trend. Luke Sital-Singh’s performance is all about his voice, a couple of the early songs, Still and Innocent showed the strengths of his voice. The tour follows the release of his second album, and the setlist was a mix of new and old, with the old better received, only because people knew them. Sital-Singh jokingly asked the audience to be louder for the new songs. Sital-Singh was not as comfortable as Lavery in interacting with the crowd, though the crowd though it probably passed 100 at this point, was neither packed nor particularly responsive. As time went on Sital-Singh’s stage presence grew and I was not alone in appreciating his fairly dour humour. Sital-Singh’s whole act is very simple, all that was on stage was a microphone, three guitars, a keyboard and Sital-Singh who used all the others at some point in the show. The songs he was strongest on tended to be the piano-accompanied ones such as Dark or Nearly Morning. As mentioned the songs tend to be well-crafted lyrically but are not very cheery (Sital-Singh even pointed out the ones in the major key) yet were often very powerful. Many of the live versions are quite different to the album versions 21st Century Heartbeat, for the better, one of the highlights of his set, maintaining this self-crafted image of the serious poet but showing his vocal range to intelligent and serious lyrics. However one or two songs such as Nothing Stays the Same felt like Sital-Singh was pulling his punches slightly, though it finished well. Songs like “Killing me” and “Fail for You” show the side of his writing the rawness of his voice and the tragedy in his lyrics were genuinely moving.
These types of gigs expect terms like intimate and atmospheric and to some extent these are reflective of the mood, but don’t quite capture the lack of energy in the audience, silence during a song, then applause then silence. When I started to quietly sing along to one of his older songs, the person next to me looked at me with mild surprise. In many ways I felt sorry for Sital-Singh he was putting on a good, though characteristically minimalist performance, and not really getting anything in return. For all it was a subdued evening in many ways, I have no complaints about Sital-Singh he gave a good showing, did his part, it was just sad how little the Phoenix crowd gave him in return.